Leukemia Has Forced Me Into a Life Audit

Time to take stock of what’s important

Wes X


Photo credit: clinicalflow.com

I picked the wrong week to get cancer, I thought. I gazed over the downtown buildings of Chicago. On a normal June day, the skyscrapers would shine bright in summer sun. But a veil of grey smoke and soot had settled over the city–courtesy of fires thousands of miles away in Canada. In my office, people hacked and coughed in their cubes. That day, Chicago had the worst air quality in the world. The gloom mirrored my mood.

I was coming off a phone call with my doctor.

“Blah blah, high lymphocytes, low neutrophils, lympho-proliferative, blah blah,” he said. His lips flapped like sausages. I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying.

Did he mean I actually had a disease? What the fuck is he talking about?

Like the forest fires a thousand miles away, the doctors told me there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t genetic. They didn’t know how I got it. It had an exotic name: Large granular lymphocytic T-cell leukemia, or T-LGL for short.

Like the forest fires a thousand miles away, the doctors told me there was nothing I could do about it.

T-LGL is a chronic, slow-progressing disease that affects the white blood cells, which are part of the body’s immune system. Granular cells called lymphocytes accumulate in the blood, causing symptoms like anemia, bleeding or recurring infections. In a normal person, when they’re done fighting off a virus, the T-cells die off and the body returns to a resting state. In someone like me, they don’t. The immune system keeps receiving inflammatory signals, which leaves less room for other types of blood cells. In a nutshell, my meatOS is out of whack.

At some visceral level, we all know we’re going to die. But it’s a far-off, amorphous concept that we’ll deal with later. Right now, there are bills to pay, beers to drink, cars to fix, kid to parent.

A diagnosis like this cuts life into two halves: what’s important and what’s not. Now, time is of the utmost importance. There is no more amorphous concept to push away into the future. Now, the kid is the most important thing, the bills don’t…



Wes X

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